How to Master the Common App’s Extracurricular Section

How to Master the Common App’s Extracurricular Section

  What Major Best Fits Your Personality? Find out here.   A lackluster extracurricular list can keep you out of many selective colleges so figuring out how to best present yourself is a must. With all the attention put on the college essay, the extracurricular part of the Common Application is often overlooked. But before you rush through it, make sure to consider the following four extracurricular list essentials: Quantity Some people swear that the number of extracurricular activities you do doesn’t matter. They insist that doing a few things well is better than doing a million things on a surface level. While I’m not a proponent of sending in a list of 30+ activities (at that point, it can just be annoying to the admissions officers!), most accepted students to the most elite colleges fill in 8-10 activities on the common application. That is not to say that there aren’t accepted students with fewer extracurricular activities that get in for their academic/personal accomplishments or who stand out so strongly in the few extracurricular activities they have that it compensates for a lower quantity, but in general, a fuller extracurricular list makes for a stronger application. If finding 8-10 extracurricular activities seems hard, think back to everything you’ve participated in over the past four years. Keep in mind that you can write down your summer activities, volunteering work (even if you only did it once for a few days), school clubs, local clubs, political activism, sports both in and out of school, music, theater, art, employment, as well as unstructured activities like baking, reading, and teaching yourself how to play the...
How to Find the Perfect Topic for Your College Essay: A Step-by-Step Guide

How to Find the Perfect Topic for Your College Essay: A Step-by-Step Guide

Want to know your chances? Find out here.     There are endless things you can worry about when it comes to your college applications, but for some reason it is the college essay that often seems to cause the most anxiety among the students I work with. In many ways, this doesn’t surprise me. The essay is, without a doubt, the most subjective part of your application. You can understand what a 620 means on the math section of the SAT and you have some sense of what a 3.6 GPA means. The difference between a good essay and a bad essay can be much harder to define and different people may even have starkly different opinions about whether your essay is effective. No matter what topic you choose or how many people you ask to look your essay over, there is some element of insecurity many students feel about their essays when they hit the submit button. You will hear a lot of advice from the “experts” when it comes to the admissions essay. Some people will tell you the best essays vividly tell a story, others will tell you that you need to have a clear opening point and multiple supporting examples, and some say the only effective essays are the ones that showcase a hook. I don’t believe there is one right formula for the essay. The most effective essays I’ve read are the ones that elevate the application by bringing it to life. How do you do that? The key is to read your application as a stranger. Pretend You Aren’t You The first...
The Secret to Standing Out

The Secret to Standing Out

Want to know your chances? Find out here.   Want to know a secret? It is not hard to stand out. You’ve been told that only the really special kids get into the Ivy League and other top colleges. They are the kids who have done ridiculously incredible things. Perhaps they’ve won the Olympics or got the first prize in a national physics competition. You don’t think you’re a genius or an athletic champion so you are just stuck applying with the rest of the masses and hoping you get lucky, right? Wrong. You have the power within yourself to make your application shine. “You don’t even know me!” you’re probably thinking. Well it doesn’t matter if I know you or not because I’ve never met a student who I thought didn’t have the ability to stand out if they wanted it badly enough. I don’t care if you don’t have a lot of money. I don’t care if your school doesn’t offer many extracurricular activities.­ I don’t care if your parents didn’t sign you up for soccer camp or violin lessons as a kid. You don’t need any of that. All you need is the ambition and drive to do something, to start something, or to lead something. Colleges want enterprising people. They want people that can have an idea and then make it happen. There are a 10,000 ways to make something happen, and many of them aren’t even that hard. They do, however, require you to take a moment to think for yourself, step out of your comfort zone, and do something different than what you’ve...
Will You Get In? How to Assess Your Odds of Admission

Will You Get In? How to Assess Your Odds of Admission

 Want to know your chances? Find out here.   The most common question students ask me is: Do I have what it takes to get in? It is a tough question to answer because the American admissions process is complicated. Your admission to college is based on more than grades and test scores. College admissions is not an entirely objective process which means I can’t just look at the data and tell you your odds. You may find this frustrating, but in some ways, it is liberating. You are not entirely limited by your grades and scores. If you can make yourself stand out in other ways, you may be able to transcend a slight quantitative weakness. Of course, the flip side of that coin is that perfect grades and top scores are no guarantee of acceptance. So how do you figure out where you stand? You can’t entirely know, but asking yourself some of the questions below will help you get an idea. GPA The first thing to ask is whether your GPA is above or below average for the school. Unless you feel you have something else significant that will stand out in your application (e.g. extensive awards, standout extracurricular activities, or a compelling personal story) or you fit into a flagged category (under-represented minority, legacy, or recruited athlete), aim to be above average for most of the schools on your list. You can find the average GPA for most schools listed on the admissions section of their websites or in the US News and World Report rankings. Academic Challenge Top colleges are looking for students who...
How to Score a Killer Teacher Recommendation

How to Score a Killer Teacher Recommendation

Want to know your chances? Find out here.     You probably know if your teachers like you or not. You know that having at least a couple teachers who think you are outstanding is an important part of the admissions process. But is it enough? Unfortunately no. Your teachers can think you are the best student they have ever had, and you can still end up with a lackluster teacher recommendation. Writing a good recommendation is an art, and it isn’t something that is taught in teacher school. A recommendation from a teacher who adores you might fall short despite your teacher’s best intentions. And worse yet, you may never even know because it is likely you will never see the recommendation before it is sent in. So is getting a good recommendation completely up to luck? No. There are some steps that you can take to make sure that you have the best chance of scoring an effective recommendation. Check their recommendation history One of the easiest things you can do to see which teachers write effective recommendations is ask students a year or two older than you who have gotten into top colleges which teachers they used. Just because they were accepted doesn’t necessarily mean they had stellar recommendations, but if they gained a number of acceptances to competitive universities, you might have some clue that their teacher recommendations couldn’t have been all that bad. Give your teacher plenty of time Teachers get bombarded with recommendation requests during fall of senior year so the more time you give them, the better your chances are of getting a...
The Three Types of Students Who Get Into the Ivy League

The Three Types of Students Who Get Into the Ivy League

Want to know your chances? Find out here.     There isn’t just one type of student that gets into the Ivy League. In fact, Ivy League schools pride themselves in taking students from a wide variety of backgrounds and with a huge range of talents. Still, in my years working at the admissions office and as an Ivy League student myself, I noticed that most admitted students fell into one of three types: The All-Around Stunner Perhaps the majority of students you meet at Ivy League Schools fall into this category. The all-around stunners are the students that are really good at a lot of different things. They impress you not because they stand out in one way, but because they are so strong in so many different areas that it is hard to say no. These students have near perfect grades, great SAT scores, and glowing teacher recommendations. They’ve participated in a variety of extracurricular activities – usually crossing disciplines such as doing something in sports, the arts, and in their communities – and they have attained positions of leadership and/or won awards in these areas. Their essays are compelling and reveal a mature, ambitious, and likeable character that complements the rest of the application. If you think you are an all-around stunner, realize that although the majority of students who get in will also be in this category, you also face the most competition as this type of applicant. Lots of applicants try to peg themselves this way so you have to make sure everything on your application does shine. You have no room for an...